The Bauhaus at 90

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The Bauhaus has become a brand and a shorthand for a German minimalist Modernism. It’s even a typeface, designed well after the Bauhaus closed its doors for good. But a much more complex and varied image of the Bauhaus emerges in three exhibits commemorating the 90th anniversary of its founding. First of all, the Bauhaus had three locations, and each one is staging its own exhibition: the ­Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. The Bauhaus was less of a place than a constantly evolving state of mind. Walter Gropius founded it in 1919 as a cross between a mystics’ retreat and a trade school. It later became a training ground for a number of artists, designers, and architects who were central to European Modernism but whose works don’t resemble the tubular minimalism most commonly associated with the Bauhaus. László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator (above) has elements of Cubism and Dada, but what makes the work representative of Bauhaus is that it’s an exploration of the intersection between art and technology. If the Bauhaus had a single credo, that would be it.

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7 Comments

  1. “László Moholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator (above) has elements of Cubism and Dada, but what makes the work representative of Bauhaus is that it’s an exploration of the intersection between art and technology. If the Bauhaus had a single credo, that would be it.”
    Beautifully put. And what a relevant credo that is today for a public square organized and based on technological systems of information distribution.

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  2. I wonder if there’s any organization working at the intersection of art and technology with the same passion, daring, and elan as the Bauhaus.

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  3. There are none that I can think of. The economies of production and education have pushed the creative processes toward hyper-specialization. There is a lot invested in resisting Bauhaus kinds of innovation.
    They break down those barriers and point to another unifying holistic approach to the making and the reception of art, design, architecture as a fundamental and meaningful process in modern life, rather than as commodities within divergent economies.
    But, there are also incredible opportunities now in the chaos of contemporary culture making. I imagine that it would come this time in a for-profit format.

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  4. I totally agree with your point about the hyper-specialization of creativity. I also wonder about the impact of computers on the design process. Hardly anyone works direct, tactile manner with materials anymore, at least in graphic design and architecture. A school like the Bauhaus probably wouldn’t get accredited now. You’re right: a Bauhaus-like studio would have to be for profit. Here and there people are working to bring good design to the masses, but not enough of them. Nowadays even Bauhaus designs are too expensive for most people.

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  5. For sure the computer design process has heavily influenced this hyper-specialization.
    And concurrently we have gone away from the importance of materials as intrinsically valuable and necessary in their own right.
    There is only so much that can be done with injection molded plastic and laminated wood, which have slick, disposable, personalities and little sense of individuality. For the time being, the creative work is being done in ideas. Perhaps that will cycle through to a new appreciation for materials.
    The increasing scarcity of hardwoods points toward up-cycling and other non-uniform ways to acquiring materials that won’t be consistent on a mass level. Do the local craftsmen and artists become important again as the ones who can take these things and give them a second life with a solid sense of art and design?
    It’s a nice fantasy. There are also signs that it is starting to happen in places like Brooklyn.

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  6. I know a lot of people with creative jobs–architects and graphic designers, mostly. None of them actually work much with real materials. For the most part, they expect the things they buy (or want to buy but can’t afford) to be constantly fresh and innovative, but a lot of them are stuck creating the same designs over and over again. I don’t know if it’s laziness or what.
    As for hand crafting, from what I’ve seen, most designers are heading in the opposite direction. The Ucodo crew is creating software that allows users to create their own objects, which are manufactured and shipped. It’s interesting, but all plastic. A lot of architects, too, are devising computer-generated blob buildings, like LAR + Fernando Romero’s Soumaya Museum in Mexico City. If there’s a signature design motif of our time, from what I’ve seen it would seem to be brightly colored plastic. It photographs well, but like you said Aric, it comes off as slick and disposable.
    Brooklyn seems to be one of the last outposts of thoughtful, hands on creativity. Lots of novelists there, too.

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  7. I know what you mean.
    Success here in the US means mass production and mass distribution, and in an economy that is competing with Target, that means manufacturing in China or going super high-end. Brooklyn is one of the few places where one could open a small store front, get a mention in the New York Times, and benefit from traffic culled from NYC’s 8 million residents. Without that connection to a huge population base, distribution is your only real hope for success. And that puts such limits on the creative process.
    Not to mention the fact that if we hope not to flush this planet in the next few centuries, we are going to have to seriously contract our consumption levels, something that goes against every business model going.
    Earlier this year I contributed to an issue of Volume on sustainability that I think you would appreciate.
    http://volumeproject.org/2008/00/00/Editorial/7616

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